Synthia’s Sin

The purpose of this page is to collect information about the ‘genome bacteria’ Synthia; the possible use of it in the BP oil spill cleanup and the potential harm it may cause for years to come.

What are the corporate-political connections? Which lawmakers are in the pockets of the corporations and which universities, hospitals & institutions are merely government-funded research and development arms of the corporations with a vested interest in pre-determined outcomes and legislative approval for highly dangerous and potentially damaging experiments?

I don’t have all the answers but I am doing my best to untangle the web of corporate and government connections, corporate-favoring policy writers, CEOs, the revolving door of our Lobbying Legislators and even the greed driven scientists, willing to risk the planet to feed their own demented egos and agendas. Check back regularly as I will continue to update this page as I try to make some sense of this insane world…

Craig Venter; Scientist Extraordinaire…Or Greed Driven Madman?

Excerpts from ScienceDaily Article, “Caution Required for Gulf Oil Spill Clean-Up, Bioremediation Expert Says” (May 4, 2010) — With millions of gallons crude oil being spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the focus now is on shutting down the leak. However, in the cleanup efforts to come, “extreme caution” must be exercised so as not to make a bad situation even worse, says a leading bioremediation expert with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

“The concentration of detergents and other chemicals used to clean up sites contaminated by oil spills can cause environmental nightmares of their own,” says Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division who has studied such notorious oil-spill sites as the Exxon Valdez spill into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

“It is important to remember that oil is a biological product and can be degraded by microbes, both on and beneath the surface of the water,” Hazen says. “Some of the detergents that are typically used to clean-up spill sites are more toxic than the oil itself, in which case it would be better to leave the site alone and allow microbes to do what they do best..

…In 1978, an oil tanker, the Amoco Cadiz, split in two about three miles off the coast of Normandy, releasing about 227,000 tons heavy crude oil that ultimately stained nearly 200 miles of coastline. The spill-site was so large that only the areas of greatest economic impact were treated with detergents. Large areas in the more remote parts of the coast went untreated.

“The untreated coastal areas were fully recovered within five years of the Amoco Cadiz spill,” says Hazen. “As for the treated areas, ecological studies show that 30 years later, those areas still have not recovered.”

In March of 1989, the oil supertanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound and impacted some 1,300 miles of coastline. It remains the largest oil spill in U.S. history. A combination of detergents and bioremediation were used in the clean-up. The detergents were nutrient rich, being high in phosphorus and nitrogen compounds. In addition, as part of the bioremediation effort, fertilizers were also used to promote microbial growth.

“What happened was that we took an oligotrophic (low nutrient) environment, and added lots of nutrients to it to speed up the degradation of the oil, which we probably did,” Hazen says. “However, we upset the ecological balance of the system, which could not handle the influx of nutrients. As a result, the severe environmental damage resulting from the spill is expected to persist for decades to come.”

While improvements to detergents have been made, including some degree of biodegradability, they remain nutrient rich and in some cases more toxic to the environment than crude oil.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, left, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., talk to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 10, 2010, after meeting with President Barack Obama regarding the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer
June 16, 2010 WASHINGTON -

“House Republican leader John Boehner bought BP and other oil company stock last year while other lawmakers were a little more fortunate, getting rid of BP stock before the oil spill caused the environmental disaster in the Gulf.

Annual financial disclosure reports released Wednesday revealed that Boehner last December sold a retirement plan in the company he once ran in Ohio, taking in between $1,000,001 and $5 million. The next day he purchased dozens of blue chip stocks, including stocks in BP, Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhilips and Occidental each valued between $15,001 and $50,000.

The Center for Public Integrity said some 20 members of Congress disclosed owning at least $1,001 worth of shares in BP or Transocean Ltd., in their 2008 financial forms filed a year ago…”

Full Article

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 From Wikipedia -

It is estimated that the synthetic genome cost US $40 million and took 20 people more than a decade of work., despite the controversy, Venter has attracted over $110 million in investments so far for Synthetic Genomics, with a future deal with Exxon Mobil of $300 million in research to design algae for diesel fuel.

Despite the funding for practical applications, as stressed by George Church, one of the main players in the field of synthetic biology, a few changes are required to obtain useful organisms now, such as biofuel production or bioremediation. However, speculation of the distant future possible application is rife. Venter himself is prone to such speculations such as “What if we can make algae taste like beef?”. If it were possible to create a synthetic cell without the use of preexisting recipient cells, however, many applications would be achievable which would be otherwise unattainable, such as a completely overhauled bacterium that works in a logically controlled way—, removing what has been described as ‘evolutionary messiness— with lower mutation rates, categorical gene arrangement (colinearity), with adding novel nucleotides to increase encoding, a feat achieved in vitro (PCR) or with a completely novel genetic code, such as has been achieved by experiments in which a few additional non-canonical amino acids were added.

Bioterrorism and bioterror

Craig Venter has funded ethical studies, but has been criticised by scientists for over-dramatising the risks of bioterror or bioterrorism,which are misunderstood by the general public. One argument regarding bioterrorism is in regards to smallpox, which could be synthesised and insertion into existing related pox viruses could theoretically be used to recreate the virus, which has been completely eradicated, except for in two BSL-4 laboratories and digital genomes. Most countries stopped vaccination programs for smallpox by the late 1970s, making a major part of the current world population susceptible to the virus.However, just like the 2001 anthrax attacks, the SARS virus, Ebola scares in the west or other outbreaks scares the damages would be in reality limited and quickly contained.

From UK Daily Mail, 3rd June 2010

Scientists today lined up to air their fears over a genome pioneer’s claims that he has created artificial life in the laboratory.

In a world first, which has alarmed many, maverick biologist and billionaire entrepreneur Craig Venter, built a synthetic cell from scratch.

The creation of the new life form, which has been nicknamed ‘Synthia‘, paves the way for customised bugs that could revolutionise healthcare and fuel production, according to its maker.

But there are fears that the research, detailed in the journal Science, could be abused to create the ultimate biological weapon, or that one mistake in a lab could lead to millions being wiped out by a plague, in scenes reminiscent of the Will Smith film I Am Legend.

…Dr Venter created the lifeform by synthesising a DNA code and injecting it into a single bacteria cell. The cell containing the man-made DNA then grew and divided, creating a hitherto unseen lifeform.

Kenneth Oye, a social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S., said: ‘Right now, we are shooting in the dark as to what the long-term benefits and long-term risks will be.’

Pat Mooney, of the ETC group, a technology watchdog with a special interest in synthetic biology, said: ‘This is a Pandora’s box moment – like the splitting of the atom or the cloning of Dolly the sheep, we will all have to deal with the fall-out from this alarming experiment.’Dr David King, of the Human Genetics Alert watchdog, said: ‘What is really dangerous is these scientists’ ambitions for total and unrestrained control over nature, which many people describe as ‘playing God’.’Scientists’ understanding of biology falls far short of their technical capabilities. We have learned to our cost the risks that gap brings, for the environment, animal welfare and human health.’Professor Julian Savulescu, an Oxford University ethicist, said: ‘Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity’s history, potentially peeking into its destiny.

‘He is not merely copying life artificially or modifying it by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of God: Creating artificial life that could never have existed.’

He said the creation of the first designer bug was a step towards ‘the creation of living beings with capacities and a nature that could never have naturally evolved’. The risks were ‘unparalleled’,’ he added.

And he warned: ‘This could be used in the future to make the most powerful bioweapons imaginable. The challenge is to eat the fruit without the worm.’